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LITTLE SHIVA

[Artist Profile]

Little Shiva interview

“The Visible Trash Society”

By Anne Sophie

Who are you?

I’m Little Shiva. I do image and design, instigate trash-awareness events with The Visible Trash Society,  and publish Fingerpainting on Mars.  I grew up traveling since my dad was in the US Navy: I was born in 1964 and we moved every two years, taking long, scenic road trips from coast to coast each time we moved. In 1972 my dad was sent to Athens, Greece and in 1974 to Brussels, Belgium, so I spent 6 years in Europe.

We traveled a lot over there too, and seeing so much of the world during all those formative years really shaped my non-attachment to “place” and my sense of being connected to anywhere and everywhere. My parents were very fun and encouraging, so I had the confidence that anything was possible. We came back to the States in 1978, just in time for me to start high school in Coronado, California. My mom got diagnosed with cancer around the same time, so that’s when I started living with death over my shoulder. Fuck death!

We moved to Eugene, Oregon for my last year of high school, then in 1982 I took off for NYC and Parsons School of Design. I loved school and had some really great teachers, including Cipe Pineles, Lance Wyman  and JC Suarès. I also did a short apprenticeship with Reba Sochis  and a longer one with Keith Godard  before starting my freelance biz, The Ministry of Fun. Nowdays I just call it little shiva dot com.  I chose to freelance when I realized that school was the set-up for a career as a corporate tool – screw that! I decided to work for myself, my friends, and projects I believe in, with as little concession as possible. So far, so good!

I stayed in NYC for 17 years, then left in 1999 to live with my Danish grandma in Charlotte, NC. You can read about that on Weird Charlotte, a site I made towards the end of my 7 years there. Being in such a culturally uninspiring place turned out to be a great motivator for me to do my own thing: I published a zine called QZ made an art car I called The Dotmobile had a column in the local alt weekly for a few years called Hot Linx. Then I fell in love with Thierry Tillier and moved to Charleroi, Belgium, which is home base when we’re not traveling.

What is the Visible Trash Society?

It started when I met Judith Selby-Lang, her husband Richard Lang and their trash-covered truck “A Feather on the Breath of God” the day after they got married at Burning Man in 2004. My pissed-offness at sloppy, wasteful people combined with Judith and Richard’s story of trash-art activism ignited a spark, and when I got home I started a slow-growing blog where I post pictures and links to artwork and art-related actions I like, on the very general theme of trash. By that I mean all the stuff we discard and overlook. I’m inspired by the big visionary work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Jo Hanson  and Patricia Johanson  who’ve applied design thinking and artistic vision to concrete problems like pollution and our endless stream of waste. I also love Rolando Politi, Yanbuki and founder of Trash Worship, and Pam Longobardi  who makes beautiful things from sea debris. I’m awed by the energy of Leila Darabi who I call the Queen of Trash for the sheer volume of good, original content she keeps flowing through her blog everydaytrash.com. And there are many others I’ve met along the way. Knowing these people are out there helps me keep a shred of faith in humanity, which on some days comes dangerously close to being lost.

As for my own trash activism, it’s still pretty low-key – I think of it as incubating. I make costumes, jewelry and other accessories from all kinds of discarded objects, and have done guerrilla performance. I’d like to curate a show called Visible Trash – Art Into Action with artists I’ve been following over the years, and as soon as I can find an art space with a bit of a budget, that can happen. I have a mail-art call  out now to gather materials for one part of that show. I developed a character called Trashbaby who serves as an inspiring alter-ego, and did a photo essay as work-process.

 What is Fingerpainting on Mars?

Fingerpainting on Mars is a time capsule, a “contemp’art maga/ZINnnn-thing” that I produce once a year. I gather content, edit, design, print and finance it as a labor of love, then distribute it via the mail, by going places with it myself and via a small but dedicated group I call TEAM DISTRO. These are people who like the project, who’ve manifested their presence along the way, and who serve as reliable contacts in faraway (from me) places. I don’t seek them out, I just sense them as they appear. Distribution is one of the most important parts of the project: after all, I’m not doing all this work and paying all this money so the magazines can sit around in boxes in my office! I’m aiming at a good mix of high and low: I want the magazine to appear in classy cultural institutions, galleries and museums as well as in places where culture isn’t being packaged and presented but is happening spontaneously – living and vibrant – by the people, for the people. I’ve gotten my foot in the door at some of both and have a few reliable spots which I mention on the website. So I cultivate this network, weeding and growing it each year, and in no hurry because I see this as a long-term project.

I self-finance because I don’t want to be bothered spending energy begging for money, and I certainly don’t want to have a sponsor who’d want a say in what content I publish, how I lay it out, who can advertise and so on. And so far, no one’s volunteered to pay for it and let me do as I please – I might not say no to that! I do a postcard edition once or twice a year which serves as a fundraiser: people buy in and get 500 high-quality postcards of the image of their choice. It’s a small art edition, and there are usually some extras, or else people let me keep some of the 500, so I put those out here and there as I travel around. Again, it’s all DIY distro. People can also advertise in the magazine, make donations on the website in any amount they choose, and can order copies by mail as well. I call all that “supporting the space program” and am very grateful when people are generous and participate like that. So far I’ve never even covered the costs of doing all this, and because it’s just a once-a-year thing it takes longer to build momentum and participation, but I believe that as the project goes on, more people will begin to appreciate it and get involved financially or by helping with distribution.

As for content, I include stuff I like, stuff that moves me, stuff I’d like other people to know about. The outside of the sheet has the covers, the intro and two feature stories per issue where I go deep into a subject, complemented by a translation (sometimes) on the website  as well as extra pics and linx. The magazine is mostly in English, but I have a lot of French readers as well, so now a little more French is creeping in. In Europe this isn’t unusual, but the Americans freak out about it sometimes. Issue 02, the current issue, has an entire feature story  in French, and some of the smaller stories too. I’ll try to get translations on the website  someday, I promise. Since translating is one of my least-favorite activities, it’ll take a while. I do it well (EN/FR) but it’s a pain in the ass. I’d much rather be playingwith pictures.

The rest of the content consists of smaller single-page features, a section of snippets of info about stuff I like with web addresses for reference, then news and more news: that’s the time-sensitive stuff, and I let my helper gather that. It’s always current at the time of publication, but it doesn’t bother me one bit to be distributing the magazine on into the year with out-of-date news – that’s part of the time capsule concept, and anyway, what’s old news to some is still good news if you’ve never heard about it, so who cares? “Old news, still good” is one of my favorite sayings. The visual anchor for each issue on the inside of the sheet is a feature I call “radiant linx,” a one-page visual feature where I do some big image surrounded by radiant URL’s to sites I find interesting and whose addresses aren’t too unwieldy to print. The links are really fun, and someday I may make the effort of translating ’em to web so they’ll actually be clickable.

The reason I call it a “magaZINnnn-thing” is because content-wise I see it as a cross between a magazine and a zine, and design-wise it really is a THING, an object, not like a traditional magazine at all. It’s a big poster-size sheet of paper printed on both sides then folded a few times so the final presentation is A4 (the european version of US letter size), and it’s pretty like candy.

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